Science Fiction: Timeline of Cultural Work

This timeline is constructed from the working theses ventured on worksheets for the final essay.  It places the novels that we have read in a time sequence, and it provides hypotheses about the cultural work of each of these novels.


1818:  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Uses SF to explore the concept of immortal life to comment on human beings’ understanding of other species and their own morals. (Malika)

Considers human nature, its possibilities and limits, and the journey that is part the scientific theory aspect.  (Ashley)

Pioneers SF genre to novelize a commentary on science itself at the time that science is emerges.  It mediates between wonders of science and a message of caution.  (Nick)


1870:  Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Uses SF (plot device of the journey) to consider imperialism: relations between natives of unexplored lands and the “civilized” men aboard the submarine.

Attitude toward imperialism?  Does not seem critical of imperialism–technology is useful to act of colonizing.  But also shows how destructive humanity can be when it goes exploring.

Attempts to rectify lack of technical science in SF.  Does this by using scientific language and technical details.

Stirs up interest in people to get interested in technology, exploration, discovery.  Does this by combining technology with adventure.


1886:  Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Is it SF?

The book uses horror and elements of SF within it, and uses this hybrid form.  (Danielle)

Horror serves to appeal to a mass readership.

Also element of mystery.


1895:  H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine

Element of shift to considering the future in relation to the present.

Humanity, no matter how evolved, can and will devolve given the right circumstances.  (Uses SF to express the popular fear of degeneration of civilization.)  Uses genre of SF to communicate this message to a wide audience. (Symone and Sasha)

Focuses on theory of evolution, its effects on man, and how man views that change.  (Annette)

Makes a social commentary on the inexcusable inequality of humanity in the growing divide in the class system in the late 19th c.   Uses SF to reveal destructive, hidden aspects of human nature that are not always noticed.  (Grace)

Considers the present as more important than a brighter future because it does not always lead to advancement–it can lead to regression.  (Challenges Victorian ideas of progress.)  (Baron)

Uses the Time Machine to explore the future in order to criticise the present-day’s use of resources because it may lead to regression, and offers hope to motivate readers to consider how their current actions will affect the future. (Aurora)

Uses novum of time travel to project Darwinian concepts that were emerging at the time into the future to challenge Victorian concepts such as imperialism.  Time travel creates distance for the reader that allows readers to digest the material easier, but also forces them to reflect on it. (Brian)

In contrast with earlier SF novels, it uses the novum as a platform to discuss humanity’s perceptions of itself, rather than the concept to time travel itself. (Megan)

Time travel uses the SF concept of estrangement in order to define humanity and the connections and empathy that are necessary.  (Kara)

Novel portrays social degeneration of the future while maintaining the distinct social classes based on the present time.  (Alejandra)


1896:  H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau

Of all books, most clearly a warning against the use of science.  Human pride meets the power of science.  Scientist in isolated experimentation, without checks and balances of scientific community or society.

Narrator continually develops theories only to correct them–science represented as going beyond the limits of what some can even imagine.

Cautionary tale: think about the effects of knowledge.

OR: the real purpose of this is not to comment on science, but to use to use science to comment on human culture and human nature–its relationship to animals.  Cf.: Darwin.  Also offers hope that we can get past this.


1912: Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World

Focuses on the potential advancement of humankind that lies in the nineteenth-c definitions of the ancient and modern.  Uses exploration component within hidden worlds and unchartered pockets of the world to explore human motivations. (Daisy)


1915:  Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland

Uses Utopia to explore the possibilities of social, political, and economic change that feminism can bring about.  A pioneer in the genre of SF in its focus on how humanity can improve. (Judy)

Show the presence and ultimate manipulation of power through women.  Uses SF to explore a lost civilization to shed light on an unfair society for women, one that does not allow them to reach their potential.  (Majelin)

Women at the center of the story, whether a utopia or dystopia (Handmaid’s Tale), women are represented as the center of the world, the future.  (Anushua)


1985:  Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Uses SF to produce power and control in the novel’s dystopian society, treating women as cattle by forcing fertile women to reproduce. (Natalia)

Uses SF to bring the reader to a society where a totalitarian regime controls women. By presenting a purported utopia that is actually a dystopia, it questions how women can progress in society and if they have a voice in their future.  It also questions if society can change and suggests that society can quickly regress in the name of progress. (Candice)

Examines the intersections between extremism and lack of tolerance and the subjugation of human kind, specifically by exploring the consequences of a reversal of women’s rights and heightened fears about the loss of women’s rights. Does this through Gilead as novum.  (Jennifer)


1990:  William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine

In early SF, measures are taken to show that man’s faults and human advancements should be kept in check.  Later SF sees tech advancement as an influential catalyst to human development, which should therefore be cultivated.  (David)